By Fred Onyeoziri
Federalism divides powers between levels of governments as a means of promoting democracy. If these different levels of government are to serve the ends of democracy, they must operate in relative independence of one another. For instance, the state level governments enjoy independence from the federal government just as the local governments are supposed to be independent of State governments.
Unfortunately, the state governments, goaded by the governors, deny independence to local governments. The result is that our local governments operate in an environment of “state unitarism” whereas they are supposed to operate with the freedom, which federalism confers on its component units.
The same governors lock up the political space in their states by making effective oversight operations impossible for their state legislatures. They do this by literally putting members of their state assemblies in their pockets, thus making their House of Assembly mere rubber-stamp legislatures.
This defeats the separation of powers principle that presidentialism uses to promote democracy.
The consequence of all this is that democracy is impossible in the states. This is not the intention of our presidential federalism!
Since 1999, a more dangerous development for our democracy is the intrusive interventionism, which federal level operators – the President and national leadership of the political parties – have been allowing the governors.
For instance, the governors are allowed to decide who becomes a senator and a member of the House of Representatives and even ambassadors from their states.
The same governors influence who becomes a federal minister and heads of federal boards and parastatals from their states. These positions or appointments belong to the federal level of government.
If one public officer, in this case a governor, decides who fills all these federal positions in addition to positions in the state and local government, what democracy can be possible in our system?
These same governors control the party executives in both state and local government by virtue of which they also control congress and primary convention delegates.
Even members of the National Working Committee (NWC) running the party at the national level are nominees of state governors.
Federalism is designed to allow states some independence from central government control but in our own federalism it seems that it is the central government that is struggling to have freedom from state governors. What an irony!
Presidential power is an all-inclusive power because the President is the only public officer elected with a nationwide mandate. All the other elected officers, including the governors, have a restricted mandate: governors are restricted to their states, legislators are restricted to their constituencies and local government chairmen to their areas. The President who has an unrestricted nationwide mandate cannot reduce his office to operate at the mercy of the governors. This is an abuse of both federalism and presidentialism!
Presidentialism makes the President both head of government and head of state. And in the latter capacity his action represents everybody in the system, irrespective of politics and geography. A presidential action can seek an advisory input from a governor but no governor has a right of input into the action of the President unless it is at the discretion of the President.
The practice by which our Presidents mandatorily solicit the input of state governors in choosing members of the Federal Executive Council is against the spirit of federalism. It allows state domination to creep into our federalism and imperil the democracy which federalism is constitutionally designed to give us.
The President has a nationwide mandate to run this country. He is not supposed to share that mandate with the governors, although wisdom requires that he may seek advice from governors as occasion demands! If the President fails in his job, he cannot tell the nation that he failed because he did not have good hands to run the national/central government. It is his responsibility and freedom to choose the best hands to enable him succeed, and he cannot blame a governor for any bad egg in his cabinet. He, therefore, cannot devolve that responsibility on the governor. Moreover, for a federal cabinet minister who regards himself/ herself as a nominee of a governor, where will the loyalty of such a minister lie – with the President or the governor?
The President should remember that in nominating federal cabinet ministers, for instance, the governors are guided by their own interest, not the interest of the President.
In parliamentary systems, cabinet ministers are colleagues of the Prime Minister, but in presidential systems, cabinet ministers are personal appointees of the President. They are not his equals, and their loyalty must be total.
Although the constitution provides that every state of federation should be represented in the federal executive. It does not say that the representation should come from the governor of the state. To say that the President has a nationwide mandate implies that his jurisdiction covers every state of the federation. He has authority to choose from anywhere in the land unguided by anybody unless whom he decides to consult.
The constitution that allows governors to make all their state and local government appointments without reference to the President or anybody else, also allows the President to make his federal appointments without reference to the governor or anyone else. If inspite of this the President consults a governor on a given appointment, the governor should not regard that as his right.
Federal appointments are fully the prerogative of the President. Any other outside involvement in the exercise can only be a recommendation subject to the discretion of the President.
Consolidating our democracy should follow through by rolling back the intrusive interventionism of the state governors which has become a threat to our democracy.
The national leadership of political parties should also help the process by working out a funding strategy which makes the party less financially dependent on the governors.
We cannot genuinely practice democracy when we load one set of public officers with all the power in the system.
Decentralized control of power is the essence of democracy. We cannot have it here in Nigeria as long as we allow our Governors so much control of the power in the system. Their intrusive access into federal positions and their domination of Local Government appointments are inimical to our democracy and federalism. The current talk of altering the revenue allocation formula in favour of the States must be coupled with imposing effective financial accountability on the Governors, otherwise we will be giving them more muscle to dominate our democracy. Already the same Governors undermine their internal party democracy rules of primaries and congresses by imposing their preferred candidates as their party choices for various elective positions.
While we are complaining against the anti – democratic excesses of the Governors, they are proceeding to do even worse. For instance, they are beginning to intrude into non- political and non – state sectors of our society. Recently in the South East, the Governors dominated the election of officers into the Ohaneze Ndigbo which is a purely cultural and non – state organization. The Governors went ahead to impose their choices of executive officers on the organization.
Presidentialism promotes democracy through its provision of its principles of separation of powers but our Governors undermine that democracy by reducing the State legislatures into mere rubber stamp institutions.
Federalism promotes democracy by dividing governmental power between levels of government, and our Governors go on to undermine that democracy by denying independence to the Local Government levels and breathing their intrusive air into federal appointments. The same Governors undermine internal democracy of their parties by imposing their preferred candidates over their party primaries and congresses. As if these are not enough conspiracies against our democracy these same Governors are beginning to attack liberal democracy which divides society into state and non – state by imposing their choices on non – state organizations such as Ohaneze Ndigbo during its last Pseudo election.
How can a group of public officers who derive their public power through the democratic provisions of our Society turn round to operate with such arrogant indifference to established democratic principles?